Laxatives And Constipation

Question of the Week

Four year old in pain on the toilet
Laxatives and Kids. Peter Dazeley / Getty Images


My 6-year old daughter has been forcibly holding her bowel movements for 2 months causing her to have frequent accidents and hard stools. I have given her a laxative (Senokot) which did help. Is this a stage she is experiencing and how long is too long to administer a laxative? Carrie, North Carolina


In general, you don't want to use a stimulant laxative, like Senokot, Bisacodyl, Dulcolax, Ex-Lax, or Castor Oil, for more than a week at a time.

If you do use laxatives for a longer amount of time, it can lead to a dependence on using a stimulant laxative to have a bowel movement.

Instead of a stimulant laxative, it is usually better to use a stool softener as a long-term treatment for constipation. Keep in mind that dietary changes, including increasing the amount of fluids and fiber in your child's diet, are also important long-term treatments for constipation. Getting her in the habit of trying to have a bowel movement once or twice a day is also an important part of any constipation treatment plan.

The fact that she is having 'frequent accidents' may also mean that she has encopresis, a complication of constipation. So maybe this has been going on for more than just two months.

If over the counter stool softeners aren't helpful, you might ask your Pediatrician about recommending polyethylene glycol 3350, a tasteless and odorless powder that can be mixed with water, and which is helpful for many children with constipation.

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And see our treatment guide for constipation for more information and advice.

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